Testing Your Troubles and where they came from

Are you troubled by anxieties, doubts, despair, being offended with others and similar inner struggles?

Many people fight with such things and do not stop to test those troubles using the standard that Jesus taught them.

As I assist people working through faith challenges I notice in them, and in myself as well, that trials stretch us and show up our inner vulnerabilities.  Under pressure we are all much more likely to be troubled, titchy, touchy and trantrummy (I made that word up so I’d have another ‘t’ word).

So, under pressure we are able to test our troubles and get insights into what is going on inside us.

Inner Struggle

When you step out in faith in God two things will be tested inside you.  Your faith will be tested, to see if it is genuine or just a sentimental notion or some attempt to manipulate God.  And your “flesh” will also be tested.

Your flesh is your natural self that existed before God brought salvation to your heart and life.  When you become a Christian your spirit man comes alive, eager and willing to love and trust God and to relate with God as God’s child.

However, your natural “flesh” self is also still alive within you, with all its selfishness, jealousies, pride, lust and self-reliance.  And the inner struggle within you is your ‘natural flesh self’ resisting the spirit man within you.

This is not some psychological notion, but a truth revealed in the Holy Bible, by the great Christian leader Paul, writing to the Christians in Galatia, in Asia Minor, nearly 2,000 years ago.

“The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that you cannot do the things that you choose.” Galatians 5:17

Rebellious Flesh

Your natural man is a real stinker.  I don’t say to offend, since we all have natural flesh inside us.  But the Bible tells us that our natural man is rebellious against God and is a barrier to our walking with God.  Note these words of Paul written to the Christians at Rome, nearly 2,000 years ago.

“They that are fleshly pay attention to the things of the flesh; but they that focus on the Spirit attend to the things of the Spirit.  For to be carnally minded (following our natural fleshly ideas) is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  Because the carnal (natural) mind is hostile against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So those that live out of their natural flesh perspective cannot please God.” Romans 8:5-8

When Paul said the natural mind is hostile to God and can’t submit to God’s law the original Greek wording suggests a soldier who simply refuses to follow orders.  When he is told to wheel right he wheels left.  When he is told to run he stands still.  That’s the picture of your rebellious, stroppy flesh man inside you, intent on resisting God.

That Voice in Your Head

When you move to step out in faith you will likely find your head filling with voices and thoughts that tell you not to do it, or to be careful, and so on.  Those thoughts are likely the rebellious voice of your flesh.

The thoughts are your own thoughts, coming from a part of you that refuses to submit to God.

Your mind will come up with a million excuses, doubts, insecurities, sound reasons for not rushing ahead, reminders of past failures, feelings of offence toward God or others, and so on.

You may even be tempted to think you are hearing the voice of wisdom and wise caution.  You may well feel great relief when you decide not to step out in faith.  But that could still be the voice of your rebellious flesh in your head.

Testing the Voice

So, if your head is full of doubts, concerns, aroused feelings, disquiet, despair or whatever, you need a mechanism to test the voice to see if it is God giving you caution and protection or whether it is just the voice of your flesh rebelling against what God wants you to do and what your spirit man on the inside wants to do in faith toward God.

Would you like to have a ready test on hand for those times?

I can give you a test that comes from the highest authority. This is a test that was given to us by Jesus Christ Himself.

Check the Fruit

The test is to check the “fruit” of the voice inside you.  Jesus told us that we will know what we are dealing with when we look at the fruit.

You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?  Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit.  A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.  Every tree that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.  Wherefore by their fruits you will know them.”  Matthew 7:16-20

What is the fruit of the voices inside your head that try to stop you stepping out in faith?  Is it the fruit of the Spirit of God?  We are told what that fruit is and it is good fruit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”  Galatians 5:22-23

Practical Example

To give you a practical application think of someone prompted to forgive a relative.  The relative had offended them and they now feel impressed to forgive and show that forgiveness by giving the relative some needed financial assistance.

At first the Christian is excited by the idea.  It is a bold and daring thing to do and consistent with some Bible verse or message they heard preached.

A while later, however, they are filled with concerns.  An inner battle is going on.

The range of cautioning thoughts could include: “They don’t deserve it”; “They may completely misunderstand what I am doing”; “This could stir up strife between us”; “I really don’t have the money spare at the moment”; “When I think about what they did to me they will never deserve my forgiveness”; “Other people don’t have to do something like this”; “God is so unfair to expect me to do something this ridiculous”; “My family won’t approve”; “Doing this will make me look so arrogant and I don’t want to be rejected”; “I’ve had thoughts like this before but how do I know this is really God leading me?”; “I always get caught in this kind of anxiety. Why doesn’t God speak more clearly to me? Being a Christian is just too hard”; “I’m just a lousy Christian because I shouldn’t be having this inner struggle”.

It is not uncommon for people to end up in some kind of mental tangle with doubts, misgivings, anxiety and so on.

Applying the Test

So let’s apply Jesus’ ‘Fruit’ Test to this situation.

The person first felt prompted to do something daring; in line with a Bible truth.  Their faith was stirred and their heart responded.

But then they became caught up in a quagmire of cautioning thoughts.  How can they know which thoughts deserve their attention?

We already know that those thoughts can come from their spirit man or from their flesh.  And we also know that the natural flesh thinking is antagonistic to faith in God.  And we know that listening to the Spirit will bring the “fruit of the Spirit” which includes love, joy, peace and faith.

Armed with that information we can then ask, “What is the fruit that comes from the thoughts swirling in your head?”

Do those thoughts prompt doubt, fear, offence, condemnation, insecurity, misgiving, uncertainty, agitation, anxiety, or similar fruit?  If so, then we know it is not the voice of the Spirit, but the voice of the flesh.

If those thoughts prompt joy and peace and arouse faith, then we know it is the voice of the Spirit, not the flesh.

I Will Believe

My encouragement to you is to “choose to believe”.  If you sense a prompting to be bold in faith realise it is your spirit man that produces the fruit of faith.

If your heart and mind then fill with misgivings, doubts, anxieties, fears and the like, take note of the fruit.

Some thoughts keep invading your mind, but they always produce bad fruit.  So why do you keep entertaining them?  Every time you give room to those thoughts you end up in fear, insecurity, doubt, anxiety, offence, shame, misgivings, etc.  There is no joy and peace and no faith.

If a robber steals money out of your hand, would you offer him more?  If you invest money in a fund that crashes would you invest more in that fund?  If you give in to your flesh and your flesh robs you of joy, peace and faith, why would you give in to your flesh again?

The Apostle Paul put in the terms of “You don’t owe anything to your flesh, because your flesh never paid out on any investment you made to it!  Giving in to your flesh kills you!”

“Therefore, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if you live after the flesh, you will die: but if you through the Spirit do kill the deeds of the body, you will live.”  Romans 8:12,13

Only Believe

“Only Believe.”  “Why do you doubt?”  “Do not give in to unbelief.”  “Hold on to your confidence.”

The counsel of Christ and the Bible is to choose to believe.  It may be a tough decision to make while so many stormy thoughts are raging in your head.  But check out the fruit of those thoughts.

Those thoughts rob you or joy, peace and faith.  They are thoughts that do not come from God.  They are thoughts from your flesh, which is at war with God.

So choose to believe and to destroy doubt.  Hold on to your confidence in God.  When you do that you will triumph over your own flesh and you will please God, because only faith can please Him.

It’s not about whether you win or not, but whether you stood in faith.  Faith pleases God.  Whether you get the victory you believe for or end up in the fiery furnace or the lion’s den, God is pleased.  And your spirit man has won out over your flesh.

And your inner troubles have been conquered.

So test your troubles and give them what they deserve.

Self-Control Without Self

I realised something recently that sounds like a contradiction. Imagine “self-control” without any “self” involved! Is such a thing really possible?

Self-control is a major challenge for people. Many struggle for the whole life to rein in their words, addictions, urges, reactions and so on. Most resolutions that people make are probably focused on gaining some new level of control over their actions, thoughts, words, spending, and so on. Self-control is a major component of personal development and making progress in life.

I Will Succeed

We admire people with strong wills, who can overcome obstacles and achieve things that others cannot win over. Losing weight, getting fit, quitting smoking and slugging through difficult studies are just some of the areas in which people have shown their determination to succeed.

self-controlDetermination and self-control by sheer willpower is seen as a great achievement and a true credit to those who display such things. These are the people held up as examples to us all.

If It Is To Be …

The saying goes, “If it is to be, it is up to me!”

That catch-cry is meant to rally people to improved resolve of will to push ahead and make the changes that need to be made. They are told not to rely on others or to dump their challenge onto some other person, but personally persist, until they get the breakthrough.

It’s great stuff. We applaud those self-reliant people who know that it is up to them to make things happen, and who get off their chair and get things done.

But, In The Bible…

However, despite the popular human notions of self-will and self-reliance, leading to self-control, the Bible has something to say about this stuff. And what the Bible has to say is quite surprising. It is the Bible that suggests to us the idea of Self-Control without “self”.

Let me show you where I get this from. Self-Control is shown to be a “Fruit of the Holy Spirit”.

When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, he listed a bunch of things that were the fruit coming from the work of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives. Self-control is listed as one of them.

Fruit of the Spirit

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, self-control: against such there is no law.” Galatians 5:22,23

The King James Bible uses the word “temperance” in that text, while modern translations use the updated term we are more familiar with: self-control.

So, self-control is a “fruit of the Spirit”. Self-Control does not come from “self”, but rather comes from the work of an agent separate to our “self”. It comes from the work of the Holy Spirit of God.

It is Not Up To Me!

Imagine that! If it is to be, it is NOT up to me. If it is to be, it is dependent on God. If self-control is to be part of my life, I am dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit to create that fruit within me!

That does not mean that I am relieved of the responsibility to gain self-control. What it does mean is that the best way to get self-control is not through the determination of my own will, but through yielding to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.

I have seen many people whose personality and character has been transformed as the Holy Spirit worked in their life. Anger and hardness gave way to joy and peace. Explosive reactions and addictions fell away and a quiet spirit emerged instead. When the Holy Spirit is allowed to work in a life the fruit is really sweet.

Fruit not Sweat

Notice that self-control is listed among the “fruit” of the Holy Spirit. Trees don’t groan and struggle to pop their produce at the end of the limb. You do not get kept awake at night by the sound of fruit trees grunting to grow their fruit. You do not see fruit trees in a lather of sweat as they struggle to be fruitful.

Fruit just grows. It starts small and gradually fills out until it is ripe and ready to be eaten.

And that’s how it is with self-control in our lives. When we yield to the Holy Spirit and allow God to minister into our lives we develop lovely, fresh fruit. There is no sweat or struggle. We don’t curse ourselves and chant encouragements to ourselves to keep pressing on. It just happens naturally and almost unseen on a day to day basis.

Self-control is a Fruit of the Spirit, not a Work of the Flesh.

Worship Will or God

The apostle Paul, writing in a letter to the church in Colosse, used the term “will worship” (Colossians 2:23). He referred to those who become committed to human rules and religious ordinances. They display great discipline in neglecting themselves and maintaining the various rules they have adopted.

People caught up in such things, however, are not living in the freedom purchased for them by Christ. If you have chosen to follow Christ, then you won’t be party to those things and the will worship that goes along with them.

Serving religious duties can cause those with strong wills, who keep the rules most diligently, to look better than others. But all that counts for nothing. We are not to worship our will, but to worship God.

Gain Self-Control

I want you to gain self-control. I want you to have so much of it that you rule your own spirit and are stronger than the mighty ones who capture whole cities.

“He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that rules his spirit is better than he that takes a city.” Proverbs 16:32

Don’t build up your self-control by reliance on your own self-will. Build self-control by looking outside your “self”. Find it in the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit in your life. Be filled with the Spirit. Be baptised in the Holy Spirit. Be led by the Spirit. Do not quench the Spirit. Soak in Bible truth for it is the sword of the Spirit. Walk in the Spirit every day. Pray in the Spirit and sing in the Spirit. Stay under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

As you let the Holy Spirit into more and more of your life you will discover that self-control is developing within you, without any demands upon your self-will. And along with it will be “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness and faith”. Now, that’s a pretty good deal, eh?

Three Levels of Fruitfulness

We are to “be fruitful” – that’s God’s command at creation. “Be Fruitful and Multiply” (Genesis 1:28). It is also what God expects of us as Christians. Jesus said that we are ordained to bear fruit. “I have chosen and ordained you to bring forth fruit that remains” (John 15:16).

So, what is fruitfulness? Some Christians see it only as getting other people to become Christians – winning souls, notching up scalps. Others think of the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ – looking for the right responses coming out of them. Others think in terms of measurable productivity. Ministers think in terms of sermons preached, numbers in the congregation, and so on.

An insight into what ‘fruitfulness’ involves can be seen in a miracle that took place in Israel’s history, as the people wandered in the Wilderness south of Israel. A group of rebels challenged Aaron and Moses. God responded by causing Aaron’s rod to blossom. Each of the leaders of the 12 tribes brought their personal rod to the temple. They were placed in God’s presence for the night. The next day 11 rods looked just the same as they did the day before. They were dry sticks, made from tree branches.

Aaron’s rod, however, had undergone a transformation. The dry almond tree wood had miraculously come to life again, but more than that it had blossomed and produced ripe almonds ready for eating. This miracle confirmed that God accepted Aaron differently to the way He treated the other families in Israel. Aaron’s family, the Levites, were in a special relationship with God that allowed God’s life to flow into them and bring fruitfulness not found in the other tribes.

In the historical account, given in Numbers 17:8, we are specifically told that there were three levels of fruitfulness evident in Aaron’s rod. God could have simply produced one crop of ripe almonds. That was perfectly sufficient to show the miracle of God’s touch on Aaron’s rod. But instead, the record accounts for various stages of fruitfulness all occuring at the same time.

The dead stick had ‘buds’. These are the promise of blossoms and they show that the stick is alive. Simply re-awakening the stick’s life-blood, so that it began to form buds, would have been a miracle. However the stick also had bloomed a batch of blossoms. These are the promise of fruit. Once each blossom was germinated it would form the fruit. So buds and blossoms were evident at the same time. And further, there were ripe almonds, fully matured and ready to eat.

Fruitfulness, then, can be seen at various stages in a person’s life. The green, fresh skin of a tree signals life, but not fruitfulness. The buds that signal fruit is on the way. However many buds form into blossoms which do not progress to fruit. Final fruitfulness is not found in buds or blossoms but in the ripe, matured fruit.

Your fruitfulness as a person should be seen first by evidence of life in you. There should also be evidence of buds – the signal of blossoms forming in your life. Then there should be blossoms, with all their promise of fruit forming in due time. And finally there should be the mature fruit, harvested and ready for enjoyment.

Let me relate that to the fruit of evangelism – leading new people to a place of faith in Christ. A ‘fruitful’ person will have fresh contacts with whom there is an open relationship opening the way for sharing the gospel. They will have others who they have had meaningful discussion with, leading them to a mature understanding of the truth. And they will have others who have been led to a mature understanding of faith and who have chosen to accept the new relationship God has for them.

Fruitfulness involves the whole process – from the bud to the harvest. So don’t just look for the ‘scalps’ or the notches in a person’s Bible (so to speak), but look for a lifestyle of fruitfulness displaying the breadth of fruiful characteristics, such as was found on Aaron’s fruitful rod.